My heart is breaking. I am dismayed, shocked, and pissed off. I just finished watching a special that CTV aired regarding drug manufacturers and the sick, titled “Pills, Patients & Profits”. I knew it was bad, but I had no idea it was this bad. The plight of a cancer patient is a tremendous one. Aside from all the physical pains that one must endure, there is also the uphill battle against the big pharmaceutical companies who make a living off of the sick. Yes, they manufacture and distribute the drugs so vital to a patient’s health, drugs that literally save lives – but at a price. A very high price, might I add. According to Russell Williams, President of Rx&D, the company responsible for speaking on behalf of the pharmaceutical companies in Canada, it costs about $1 billion dollars to research and develop a drug (LIES!). This $1billion figure is used as justification for the high drug prices that patients must pay in order to stay alive and is based on research done at Tufts University in Boston. Critics, however, claim such statements to be a load of BS and actually estimate costs to be substantially lower. Dr. Marcia Angell (physician, professor, former Editor in Chief of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine and author of “The Truth about Drug Companies”) claims that these pharmaceutical companies report such high costs because, like all drug companies, they are running a business. Simply put, they are profiting off of the sick. According to Forbes magazine’s list of 2,000 multinational companies, the annual profit margin is about 8%, but for the top pharmaceutical companies, the average profit margin is about 20%. Angell states that, in reality, it takes about $100million dollars (instead of $1 billion) to research and develop a drug, a difference of about 1000%. In fact, the $1billion figure calculated by Tufts University was actually based on industry supported economists using confidential data submitted in secret by companies that no one else could see except those economists. According to Donald Light, a professor at the New Jersey School of Medicine (whose specialty is the economics of drugs), “they essentially take what they claim to be $71 million of direct costs and inflate them up to $1.3 billion.” So REALLY, these so-called R&D costs don’t even amount up to the $100million figure that Angell had estimated, meaning that the amount of inflation is greater than 1000%! OH HELLLL NA! How is that even LEGAL?! Oh but that’s not even the worst part… According to Light, about 84.2% of drug research money around the world comes from public and charitable sources. Youuu guessed it! Taxpayer’s money, essentially, your money. Angell states that customers actually pay twice when it comes to their drugs: for the research and at the pharmacy. Much of the R&D done by companies is funded by the public purse. Companies do not start paying for R&D until the drug goes into field-testing. She says that much of the money actually goes towards the promotion of products instead of R&D when it comes to the companies’ own costs. 24% of sales dollars goes towards marketing, while only 13% goes to R&D. That 24% is money used to persuade clinicians into prescribing drugs that they wouldn’t normally prescribe (through paid conferences, gifts, etc., which, by the way, are all labeled as “marketing costs”). This, in turn, helps feed the vicious cycle that is BigPharma throwing the sick people under the bus, all while raking in the major CASHOLA. As mentioned, many critics of the pharmaceutical profit margins claim that that is simply so because the “sick” market is the market to be in. Light recounted an interview with the retired head of a pharmaceutical marketing department who called that “the exploitative marketing model” – “exploit very sick people with very high prices because they’re desperate and don’t have a choice”, said Light. Williams (head of Rx&D, if you remember) defended his stance by stating that pharmaceutical prices are “entirely reasonable” because “we set prices in a way that is considered very fair on international norms”. What the hell is this guy on??? How delusional can you be?! NO ONE can afford that shit! But I suppose one must remember that money often speaks louder than the dying.
Now, this piece takes an unexpected turn and actually showcases not one, but TWO MULTIPLE MYELOMA patients (us myelomians (?) and those caring for us are not accustomed to the limelight). Throughout the rest of the segment, they highlight the struggles and pains each person goes through to obtain the life-saving drugs essential for their survival. Two drugs that all of us are very familiar with, I am sure: Thalidomide and Revlimid. Thalidomide, currently, is not covered in Canada, and thus, costs about $4000/month! (So much for universal healthcare…) Bart Barlogie is the man credited for discovering thalidomide’s use for MM and is basically heralding it as a potential cure (a word that we cannot use lightly) for the disease. He published his findings in the New England Journal of Medicine, which resulted in a curious, but not surprising, string of events (did I just contradict myself?) At the time, the manufacturers of thalidomide, Celgene, were selling the drug in British Columbia for about $400/month. This was in 1999. Not long after the article, Celgene DOUBLED the price to $800/month in 2002, and then in $1500/month in 2003, and then AGAIN to $2400/month 2003. By 2005, the price for a monthly dose of thalidomide had soared to $3600 – a 900% increase over six years. Once again, WTF?!?! A textbook example of the “exploitative marketing model” previously mentioned. Basically, Celgene raised their prices just because they could. Dan Childerhose, of Dorchester, Ontario, was one of the people highlighted in the segment with MM. He had achieved remission, but was concerned about the possibility of relapse. So, he decided to take thalidomide as a good maintenance drug, to prolong his remission as long as possible. Because of the extremely high costs in Canada, Childerhose found a legit manufacturer of thalidomide in Mexico that sold a monthly dose for, get this, $90!!!! But that course of action was abruptly shut down when the drugs were destroyed at the border. As a last resort, Childerhose applied to Celgene to receive thalidomide under compassionate grounds, which would give him the drug for free under strict regulations involving an assessment of his net worth. Compassionate or Cruel? Childerhose wasn’t accepted and wasn’t even given a reason why he was refused. The company didn’t even have the decency to sign his letter of rejection. Ouch. “It’s like Russian roulette,” said Childerhose. And the one holding the gun? “The pharmaceutical company”. The other man highlighted in the segment was one from Nova Scotia fighting desperately to receive Revlimid, as it is not covered there either. You can watch the whole segment at the link provided. From watching all of this, I am…disgusted and nauseated at the pure lack of HUMANITY these companies have. HOW do these men and women sleep at night? Shame on them… But ultimately, it is not just Big Pharma that is guilty of, essentially, robbing us of our loved ones, but also those members of the government who have the power to make a change, to enforce tighter rules and regulations on pharmaceutical pricing, and to stand up for the people. After all, that’s what the government is there for no?
In a related topic, I also found a newspaper article (from about a week ago) in the Calgary Sun that outlined just how much health care executives in Alberta make. According to the article, the bonuses that Alberta healthcare executives receive is “’based entirely’ on the Calgary Health Region Balanced Scorecared where everyone win except the public” The largest bonus received last year was * drumroll * $129, 462, while those further down the food chain received a $94, 686 and $70, 430.54 bonus. Kevin Taft of the Liberals stated, “Enough already. If you’re getting a salary of $200, 000 to $400, 000 you shouldn’t need a bonus to do your job. It’s beyond the pale”. AAAAAMEN! He continued, “pay public servants well but they need to bring a spirit of public service. I think management should be embarrassed. A bonus of $100,000 in the public sector, where do they get off? Why are bonuses even being considered?” Rick Bell, author of the article, makes a good point. “These bonuses happen in a recession when the health care top guns leave much to be desired and the province muses about wage restraint for the folks working for one small to middling cheque and not two fat ones.” He also writes, “On Tuesday, Gene Zwozdesky, the health minister, calls this ‘a matter of history’ and says ‘in light of the difficult economic times’ bonuses for bigwigs are ‘limited to 20% of their yearly contracts.’ You make $300,000 you get $60, 000 more.
Seriously. There is something seriously wrong with our society. Since when was it ok to trade in a sick patient for a new car??? Did I miss the memo?! This is NOT ok!!!